I post the following article in view of recent and vociferous critiques of theonomy and Christian reconstruction made by Reformed Baptist podcaster J. D. Hall. I have secured agreement for a moderated discussion with Chris Rosebrough of Pirate Christian Radio to discuss the charges Hall has leveled against our position. I will save my own direct responses to him for that date.
As for his specific charges, for now I’ll just say there is a wide disparity between the air of confidence (several actually said “arrogance”) with which he exposed the “Errors of Theonomy” and the substance of what he actually produced. To many of us listening to him, it was obvious he was not very much at all familiar with the literature or actual positions theonomists have taught; as a result he repeats straw men and misrepresentations so obtuse that did we not know he was serious we would think they were hyperbolic.
While Hall did admit he is not an “expert” on theonomy, he also quipped, laughing, it would not be difficult to “read every single book that there is on theonomy,” because there “is not much—there’s not very many books on it because it such a strange, peculiar belief and it’s actually not that old.” Considering that there are over a hundred volumes between North and Rushdoony alone (not even counting all the other authors, articles, and journals), a statement like that only reveals how out of touch with the issue he really is.
Nevertheless, he went on for well over two hours spanning two podcasts (here and here) in order to critique our positions. The result, as I said, was to repeat the worst and most fallacious of errors for which previous critics long ago were refuted. The simple fact that Hall did not even realize the arguments he was making—again, confidently—had been refuted over twenty years ago, testifies to how little homework he actually did on the subject.
And the worst part of this is that he is friends and associates with theonomists who warned him not to do this prior to doing it. They told him he was off base and not representing us accurately: please, read some our actual stuff before you do this!, they pleaded. But he did not listen.
At the behest of some, I moved to secure an opportunity to discuss these things with him on air sometime in mid-December (TBA). And it seems he has already begun to realize just how much homework he has not done, and yet needs to do. Last night he took to a Facebook group of his followers to announce our upcoming “debate” (I have not called it that), and announced his need for help: “I need 2-3 people to help do some research assistance.”
Yes, you do. For the level of argument so far has only repeated old errors, such as these gems from Hall:
1) Theonomists believe that changing culture is the (singular) goal of the faith.
2) Theonomists may say they believe in preaching the Gospel, but that is only secondary to what they really want to do.
3) Theonomists are “obscure,” “abberant,” and “strange” extremists who hide their real agenda like cult members, engaging in “deceit and dishonesty.”
4) Theonomists want to start killing children—to stone to death 10-year-old children who disobey their parents.
5) Theonomists want to reinstitute “slavery.”
6) Theonomists believe in “cruel and unusual punishment.”
7) Theonomists believe in “the letter of the law” such as requiring “rails on top out house.”
8) Theonomists believe in “imposing” Mosaic law.
9) Theonomists teach “heresy.”
10) Theonomy is like sharia law.
11) Theonomy is “eschatologically driven.”
I could go on, but you get the point. There is nothing new under the sun, especially among Theonomy’s eager but unlearned critics. It is for this reason that I offer this morning an excerpt from Greg Bahnsen’s response to critics back in 1991—twenty-three years ago—No Other Standard: Theonomy and Its Critics, which is available in full for free here. (I would recommend Mr. Hall to read it, and its footnotes, closely.)
Virtually all of the points in Hall’s podcast were addressed already directly in this book. Several of them are reproduced below. For the sake of length, I did not include others, but you can find them in the PDF. For example, the arguments regarding the alleged horrors of a theonomic society are addressed on pages 62–65, and arguments from silence (e.g. “The New Testament doesn’t say this.”) on 67–69. But many of the others you will notice are addressed in the excerpt below, from pages 40–54.
It is an absolute shame and disappointment that theonomy’s critics continue in this way. The absurd positions attributed and condemnations leveled—especially in the face of direct warnings and brotherly checks against doing so—speak more of a witch hunt than any serious reflection. But again, we’ve seen this before. As I have always said, 1) our critics don’t quote us, 2) when they do they don’t present us in context, and 3) as a result, they misrepresent our positions. Hall has risen to the level of quoting us in a couple places; but, unfortunately, he has not surmounted the second two besetting sins. The result is what Bahnsen referred to, in part, as “sloganized, ambiguous criticism.”
(I have attempted to reformat as well as possible, but may have missed a hyphenation or character here or there.)
Overkill, Vehemence, Name-calling
The critics of theonomy have hardly been a model of restraint in speaking of their opponents. Gary Long has accused theonomy of Judaizing the New Testament; Albert Dager asserts that it is promoting “a modern Phariseeism.”Ice and House published that theonomy should be rejected simply because of the “possibility” that it might be guilty of moralism, unprincipled pragmatism, apostasy, compromise with the world, and permeating the faith with humanism!Walter Chantry accuses theonomists of speaking perverse things, of having deformed and distorted views, of propounding a twisted theology which is a threat to the church, of mutilating Biblical doctrine, of being sinister and aberrant. Chantry says we are unlearned. He comes very close to asserting they we do not belong to God’s kingdom at all.I have hardly ever encountered such vitriolic name-calling under the guise of Christian scholarship, unless it was found in Meredith Kline’s review-article of Theonomy.He calls theonomy “a delusive and grotesque perversion” of the teaching of Scripture which has been rejected as “manifestly unbiblical” by virtually all students of Scripture -something which “must be repudiated as a misreading of the Bible on a massive scale.” The “blatantly unbiblical results” which theonomic politics inevitably produces afford a ”startling warning of the utter falseness” of the thesis. “What we are talking about here is not something illusively subtle or profound, but big and plain and simple.” In my “obfuscation of the lucid biblical picture” I miss what is “simple, obvious, allimportant” and “clear” in the Bible. Kline charges that I manage to miss a “simple message … written large across the pages of the Bible so that covenant children can read and readily understand it.” In his estimation, I can hardly be a child of the covenant. My “delusive and grotesque perversion” of the Bible must be evidence that I am either a dangerous heretic or someone virtually devoid of common intelligence.
But come now. Could things really be that extreme? Are the critics perhaps increasing the emotional volume and rhetoric to compensate for a lack of cogent analysis and substantial criticism? Are they engaging in proof or pontification? In studying further in this book, the reader can judge for himself. The issues before us ought to be decided on the exegetical and logical merits of the case (made one way or the other) and not encumbered with personal antagonism, appeals to emotion, fallacious tactics of criticism, or caricatures. “Even the Gentiles” who are engaged in scholarly work know better than to behave and speak in the way illustrated above. Those of us who represent the Lord who claims “Truth” as His very own title should certainly maintain at least as high a standard of scholarly integrity, accuracy, and concern for sound reasoning (rather than name-calling) as those who make no profession of following Him. The amazing thing is that you would expect, in the face of the kind of uncharitable and unscholarly lambasting of theonomists as we have seen above, that the refutation of this horrible error would carry a compelling cogency commensurate with the personal condemnations. But such has not been forthcoming (especially from those critics who have been the nastiest in their name-calling). One might think that if theonomy is as ridiculous and misguided as critics wish to suggest, the critics would not have needed to waste time stooping to the weak and beggarly maneuvers of maligning theonomists. They could have simply gone to the heart of the matter and openly refuted the obvious error in the position itself.
The Notable Extent of Counterfeiting
The above call for scholarly integrity goes hand in hand with a demand that our opponent’s viewpoint not be counterfeited by misrepresentation. I realize that anybody who undertakes to be a writer or public instructor of any kind must expect a measure of erroneous reporting of what he or she teaches. This is an occupational hazard. With some grace and a sense of humor, minor occurrences of false depiction of your views can be endured. The problem I have with many, many critics of theonomic ethics goes way beyond that, however. The extent of the misrepresentations and the severity of the falsehoods taken to the general public are so startling (and repeated)—and made the basis for rejecting the position as false—that one must now indignantly criticize the critics for their irresponsibility (both intellectual and moral). The reader should appreciate the fact that theonomists are not crying out against this offense simply because they are thin-skinned. Space does not permit a full detailing here; so let me simply warn the reader to beware of claims which are commonly made about theonomicethics.Read the position for yourself.
Refinement Rather than Refutation
Sometimes theonomy has been criticized for having the “wrong emphasis” in terms of the overall scope of Christian theology or Christian living. It has been faulted for laying stress on sociopolitical morality and in particular the issue of penology (and most dreadfully, capital punishment). Critics make the point that there are more important things than this in the full range of Biblical doctrine. They have insisted that the life of the believer has more fundamental concerns than crime and its punishment. To be brief, there are two things I would say in reply to this line of criticism. First, I don’t disagree that the issues taken up in Theonomy are of subordinate importance in the Christian life, preaching of the church, range of theological loci, etc. Second, there is no indication (as far as I know) in my writings, lecturing, or preaching which would indicate any other estimate than that. This is a criticism which creates a problem that does not exist. Surely the fact that some Christians take up the question of God’s law and its relation to modern penology—and that some write on the subject—does not mean that they believe that subject is the most vital issue for all believers (or even for themselves).
Another way in which people have attempted to criticize the theonomic position is by accusing it of simplistic thinking—not taking into account how complicated the application of God’s word is to our modern world, or not giving enough attention to related aspects of Christian theology, or not recognizing enough of the situational factors which bear upon the different uses of the law between Old Testament Israel and the New Covenant, etc. Some critics have thought that the argumentation in support of theonomic conclusions is too simplistic. What would I say to these kinds of remarks? Well, perhaps there is some truth to them; I certainly would not want to distort the precious truth of God by mishandling it in an incorrect or oversimplified fashion. But there is some satisfaction in knowing that for over a decade now, not one critic who has leveled this kind of charge has given any example of an overlooked, relevant factor which could not already be found in my writings or lectures. (There may still be some, of course.) Those who have suggested oversimplified reasoning have not pinpointed the fallacious logic or poorly conceived premises (as yet anyway).
These two different kinds of criticism have something in common: namely, neither one of these criticisms refutes the theonomic position, even if the criticisms turned out to be warranted.That is, in the nature of the case, such criticisms do not undermine the truth of the basic theses of theonomic ethics. They simply show that there is more to say about the subject or that it should be given less emphasis. And that is fine. I would simply insist that we say as much as theonomy maintains, when (and where) it is appropriate to deal with God’s law or the subject of the civil magistrate.
Is the Appeal to God’s Immutability Simplistic?
The theonomic approach to ethics has been thought to be too simplistic when it appeals to the immutability of God’s character as proof that the law of God, which reveals that character, is unchanging in its validity. For instance, John Frame writes: “if God’s unchangeability is compatible with changes in the applicability of ceremonial laws, as it is for Bahnsen, why may it not also be compatible with such changes among the judicial laws?”The answer is clear. The only changes in God’s law which are indeed compatible with His unchanging moral character are those which He Himself has revealed. Theonomists find such changes revealed in Scripture regarding the ceremonial laws, whereas theonomic critics do not adduce such Biblical grounding for the changes they propose in the judicial laws.
Moreover, it should not be thought that theonomists move simply from the immutability of God to a definite conclusion about the validity of any particular law without giving consideration to relevant Biblical teaching that might affect the use or application of that law. (That would be a simplistic understanding of theonomy!) We move from the theological premise, giving a presumption of continuing validity, through Biblical exegesis to our applications—or at least we are supposed to! Finally, theonomists recognize (as some critics do not) that the immutability of God is not completely the same thing with respect to His essential character (which the moral law reflects on a creaturely level) and with respect to His eternal purposes or choices (reflected in the plan and accomplishment of redemption, and expressed in the foreshadows of ceremonial law, but realized in the substance which is Christ and His work on our behalf). Frame’s rhetorical question should not be taken as suggesting that there is no underlying rationale for distinguishing the character of judicial laws (presumed to have continuing validity) from that of ceremonial laws (expected to be modified in the course of redemptive history).
Doug Chismar considers the “case laws” (e.g., Exodus 21-22) of the Old Testament to pose some tremendous difficulty for upholding the immutability of God’s commands. These laws were expressed in terms of very specific, cultural details (e.g., goring ox, flying axehead, rooftop railing). Chismar wonders how theonomists can maintain the immutability, not only of the summary laws (e.g., love commands, the Decalogue), but also of these very specific case laws “despite apparent radical changes in application.” He finds the resolution of this problem, however, in my own teaching (and even quotes me). According to Chismar, the case laws epistemically “provide paradigm instantiations of the principles or summary laws. Only the principles, however, are morally binding for all times ….Thus we are not bound to put fences around our roofs today, but we may be bound to put them around our swimming pools.” Do the underlying principles illustrated by the case laws of the Old Testament explicate, qualify, and show us how to obey the more general commands of Scripture, as theonomists say? In his article Chismar admits that they do. They do not reduce simply to the more general commands (e.g., “love your neighbor”), but play a definitional role, illustrating the application of those commands, and thus helping generate new laws from the summary principles. This is just the theonomic position expressed in Chismar’s language.
Chismar correctly notes that there are “massive cultural/technological/geographical differences” between the society of Old Testament Israel and our own- differences which make the translation of Old Testament demands into contemporary applications a difficult and challenging task. Although the difficulty has sometimes been exaggerated, Chismar is right that there will even be some difficulty “in determining which principle is being instantiated” by specific case laws. But what Chismar has pointed out is not a unique hermeneutical problem for theonomic ethics. Such remarks apply to every effort to bring the ancient literature of the Bible (whether from the Mosaic, prophetic, or even New Testament periods) to bear upon our very different, modern age. Relativists insist that it is impossible. The alternative of abandoning God’s ancient, written revelation of His will in favor of modern wisdom may have greater simplicity, but it is treason against the King of heaven and earth. Let us not allow the difficulty of the task make us hesitant to give it our best, sanctified efforts.
The Schoolboy Error of “Direct” Application?
The editors, Barker and Godfrey, charge that theonomy “over-emphasizes the continuities and neglects many of the discontinuities between the Old Testament and our time.” This kind of ambiguous and overgeneral remark is of little help. We are rarely told precisely what discontinuities the theonomist has actually overlooked or how exactly the continuities are overemphasized. A verbal standoff can be created by simply responding that no, rather, itis the case that non-theonomists overlook the continuities and overemphasize the discontinuities! It would be a whole lot more profitable for everybody if theologians (in general) got out of the habit of criticizing each other’s “emphasis” and paid constructive attention to the actual premises and conclusions advanced by each other.
Something which would make the job of theonomic critics much, much easier is if theonomists did not try to draw careful distinctions, qualifications, and detailed evaluations regarding their own basic tenets and the text of Scripture—or if they just did not believe (as they do) in a redemptive-historical reading of the Bible.(It would be hard to explain why they write such long and detailed books, though.) Vern Poythress acknowledges: “We do not merely assume that no changes can ever be entertained. Bahnsen instructs us to examine patiently the particular texts and warns us of the complexities involved.” Again: “Theonomy at its best takes considerable note of discontinuities introduced by redemptive history and in particular by the coming of Christ.”
If theonomy can be portrayed as obtuse to these obvious complications in using the whole Bible for socio-political ethics today, it would be a very easy job for the critic to dismiss the position as simplistically appealing to the Old Testament and “directly” and thoughtlessly applying it to the modern scene.For instance, Christopher J. H. Wright has misconceived and thus badly misrepresented the “theonomic” approach as calling for a “literal imitation of Israel” which simply lifts its ancient laws and transplants them into the vastly changed modern world.It amazes me sometimes that some theonomic critics, especially those who have not done their reading, can just assume that they alone are bright enough to be conscious of situational changes which must be taken into account in the use of the Old Testament—or are concerned to read the Old Testament in a “covenantal Christological” fashion.
Theonomists do not practice nor advocate anything like a “direct” move from the unchanging character of God, or the old covenant code, to modern law-codes. As Poythress notes, it is a mistake “to insist on straight-line continuity of application for all the Mosaic laws except those that are explicitly altered in the New Testament.”The assumption of “direct” or “abstracted” application, though, is a linchpin in many arguments against theonomy, making the critic’s job an all-too-easy shortcut to serious interaction and analysis.
Some critics of the theonomic position seem (at first glance anyway) to hold that matters of socio-political morality ought to be of no concern to the Christian—that Christ’s kingdom does not concern temporal, material or external matters. They write that we should simply be strangers and pilgrims in this passing vain world, so that matters of evangelism and personal piety should occupy the Christian’s concern, not cultural and political affairs—as though true spirituality is purely otherworldly in character. Given such premises, interest in the validity of the Old Testament civil laws is impertinent, seeing that God has not called us to reform our societies in the first place. Believers ought to be more heavenly-minded, interested in the church rather than the world.
Despite the intense rhetoric that often attends this kind of criticism, readers must realize that the critics cannot be taken at face value. In most cases, these same writers will turn around elsewhere and admit that, well yes, Christians cannot turn away completely from this world but must live responsibly and righteously with respect to cultural affairs too—thus reintroducing the relevance of theonomic ethics “through the back door” (as it were). It is hard to avoid the New Testament witness that holiness is supposed to characterize not only personal and ecclesiastical aspects of life, but rather “all manner of living” (1 Pet. 1:15), that God’s glory is to be pursued not only in home and church but also in “whatsoever you do” (1 Cor. 10:31). Christ calls His followers to be the salt “of the earth,” not merely in the church! In the end, the critics of theonomy do not renounce any and all Christian involvement in social affairs and political reform after all. At best, their complaint is with the “wrong emphasis” found in theonomic ethics, and at best this complaint is slippery and poorly conceived. We may readily grant that socio-political reconstruction has less urgency than personal spirituality or the church, but this does not bear whatsoever upon the truth or error of the theonomic standard for politics.
Theonomists do not, as theonomists anyway, diminish, undervalue or obscure the surpassing importance of personal salvation, a pious walk with God, and the life of the church. We would not for a moment suggest that the New Testament message of the accomplishment and application of redemption to God’s people by Jesus Christ—with a view to the individual’s standing before God and his eternal destiny—is of secondary importance or merely a means for getting to what is “really” important, namely social transformation. We cry out with Paul: “God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me and I unto the world” (Galatians 6:14).
The thesis of theonomic ethics is not logically tied to any particular school of millennial eschatology. Accordingly, the article by Richard Gaffin in the recent book by the Westminster Seminary faculty opened with a conceptual faux pas by stating in its first sentence: “Essential to the emergence of theonomy . . . has been a revival of postmillennialism.”He adds the equally inaccurate remark that postmillennialism “is plainly integral” to the position, whether logically or psychologically. These claims are factually mistaken. Dr. Clair Davis [Gaffin’s fellow-critic] offers this corrective: “One does not need to share an ‘optimistic’ postmillennial perspective to see the value in theonomy.”Critics trip themselves up by confusing the question of what ought to take place in the world (ethics) with the question of what will in fact take place in the world (eschatology).
Millennial critics (like Gaffin) often make a further mistake by unfairly representing the theonomic and/or postmillennial position as forgetting the theology of the cross and—in “triumphalist” notes of progress or victory—obscuring or removing the constitutive dimension of suffering from the present triumph of the church. The question is not whether the people of God shall suffer in this age (or a time when the ruling powers are more favorable to a Biblical perspective). The questions are rather: (1) do our inevitable sufferings issue in greater or lesser manifestation of Christ’s saving rule on earth, breaking the power of sin, and (2) do our inevitable sufferings as obedient followers of the Messiah deter us from striving to persuade men and societies to submit to His rule (and rules)? Scripture teaches us that our laboring is not in vain and that tribulation is not incompatible with greater manifestation of Christ’s saving dominion. Scripture teaches us that persecution and hardship are no obstacles to the commission that we teach the nations to obey all that Christ has commanded. I do not see how any legitimate charge of triumphalism can be laid at our feet for believing these Biblical truths.
Nevertheless, this sloganized, ambiguous criticism continues. Indeed, the threat of triumphalism in many forms seems to be the unifying concern of the recent book written about theonomic ethics by the faculty of Westminster Seminary. The editors offer this commentary: “Even to some sympathetic observers of theonomy the most troubling aspect of the movement, besides its application of the penal sanctions of the Old Testament judicial law, is the triumphalist tone of much of its rhetoric.”Connected with this is a concern of a few authors that theonomists might be too dogmatic in making their case.Such cautions are well-meant and should be taken to heart by theonomists (cf. Rom. 2:17-20). We all have much to learn, and nobody has all the right answers, to be sure. On the other hand, we must not portray the task God has given us as overly difficult and virtually impossible to do. My admonition is against a kind of functional agnosticism that easily becomes the theologian’s (and seminarian’s) self-inflicted paralysis. We do not want to suggest that the Great Commission is really too great to carry out by the church! So let’s not overstate the case for caution and teachability, and let’s not become disobedient to the task Christ has given His people to do in this world out of concern for a pseudo-danger called “triumphalism” (cf. Rev. 2:26; Matt. 16:18).
Finally, it can hardly be a well-reasoned criticism of theonomic ethics that some “potentially dangerous ideas” could arise from following the holy laws of God in Scripture. We live in a fallen world where adherents of any and every political philosophy (including attempted Biblical ones) will err in carrying out their ideals. That being the case, it only makes sense to err on the side of the angels, starting with the best (indeed, infallible) ideals available to men—the revealed laws of God! Just imagine what “potentially” (no, actually!) dangerous ideas have stemmed from not following God’s law, but rather the human speculations found in worldly philosophers and politicians. The world is a dangerous place—too dangerous for human authorities (or their theoreticians) not to be restrained and regulated by the justice of God’s laws.
 Gary Long, “Biblical Law and Ethics: Absolute and Covenantal,” presented to a Baptist Council in 1980, serialized in Sword and Trowel (1980-81), and published by Backus Books of Rochester, New York; Dager, p. 200.
 Dominion Theology, pp. 335, 339, 340, 341, 342, 344, 349-350, 356, 374-375, 377, 388, 390.
 God’s Righteous Kingdom (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1980), pp. 9, 10, 11, 17, 18, 21, 23, 25, 26, 29, 47, 54, 87, 100, 123.
 Meredith G. Kline, “Comments on an Old-New Error,” Westminster Theological Journal, vol. XLI, No. 1 (Fall, 1978), p. 173.
 In the “Foreword” to Gary DeMar’s book, The Debate Over Christian Reconstruction (Atlanta: American Vision Press, 1988), pp. xiv-xv, the occasion was afforded for me to issue a moral admonition to fellow-believers about the extensive maligning and false claims which were being made concerning the theonomic (reconstructionist) school of thought. It bears reading at this point.
 This is repeatedly the case in a recent “critique” of theonomy by certain faculty members at Westminster Theological Seminary. Readers have been given the impression that Theonomy: A Reformed Critique, ed. William S. Barker and W. Robert Godfrey, is a decisive refutation of the theonomic position. Advertisements say that they have “written the book” (the book, not “a book”) on the subject of theonomy. However, much of the book is given to questions of emphasis in Biblical theology, cautions against simplistic hermeneutics, or exhortations that all parties not be lazy but do their difficult homework in properly interpreting and applying the Old Testament law today (e.g., articles by Frame, Poythress) -all of which may be well and good, without demonstrating whatsoever that the distinctive tenets of theonomic ethics are objectively mistaken. The “critique” turns out to be of certain possible dangers that could arise from the position, not of theonomy as a theological position as such. After warning that theonomists (and intrusionists of the Kline-variety) should not be satisfied with their “initial impressions” of a particular text but understand the “whole warp and woof of God’s revelation,” Poythress recognizes that, nevertheless, the theonomic reading of Scripture may be “true as far as [it] goes” (p. 119).
 John Frame, “The One, the Many, and Theonomy,” Theonomy: A Reformed Critique, p. 90.
 House and Ice, chapter 5, have also demurred at the theonomic argument from God’s unchanging moral character. But an analysis of their reasoning reveals that they have only tripped themselves up through lack of conceptual clarity, equivo cation over the use of the word “law,” and misrepresentation of the theonomic viewpoint. They declare: “the idea that the unchangeableness of God requires that the specific details of the Mosaic code be transferred to all times and cultures simply does not follow.” But of course theonomists do not argue for transferring “the specific details” of the Mosaic code to all other cultures (e.g., the specific detail of rooftop railings is not relevant to much of modern American culture). For my analysis of the equivocations and contradiction in the position of House and Ice, see House Divided, chapter 6, where among other things I note their tendency to slide from the theologi cal concept of God’s essential character to the logically different concept of God’s eternal purposes. The presumption of continuing and universal validity for the moral provisions (underlying demands, not specific cultural details) of God’s law does indeed “follow” from their reflection of His essential and unchangeable character.
The same problem undermines Lightner’s criticism. He says: “The problem, however, with theonomy is that it makes God’s immutability to be immobility” (Robert P. Lightner, “A Dispensational Response to Theonomy,” Bibliotheca Sacra, vol. 143 Uuly-Sept., 1986], p. 231). This is a linguistic muddle. (We are supposed to believe that God does not “change” but He does “move”?) Lightner goes on to ask, “Why does it follow that since God is unchanging in His essence, He cannot deal differently with His creatures at different times?” The answer should have been obvious. If the two different moral standards both reflect the essence of God, then either God’s essence has an inner contradiction (between one standard and the other), or God’s essence changes (from one standard to the other). Lightner has not sufficiently grappled with the philosophical and theological problem inherent in his dispensational ism.
 I pursued the argument from God’s immutability in a lecture delivered at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society at Toronto in 1981. (A tape of the lecture is available from Covenant Tape Ministry, 24198 Ash Court, Auburn, CA 95603.) Doug Chismar subsequently offered a critique of this line of thought (Douglas E. Chismar and David A. Rausch, “Concerning Theonomy: An Essay of Concern,” Journal ojthe Evangelical Theological Society, vol. 27, no. 3 [Sept., 1984], pp. 315-323). My response to Chismar can be found in “Should We Uphold Unchanging Moral Absolutes?,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, vol. 28, no. 3 (September, 1985), pp. 309-315.
 “Preface” to Theonomy: A Reformed Critique, p. 11.
 John Muether, p. 251, tries (simplistically) to dismiss the theonomic outlook for its alleged “unwillingness to make important redemptive-historical distinctions.” He offers no argumentation to support that judgment and gives no indication of what important distinctions theonomists miss from scripture. Likewise, Tremper Longman claims: “Theonomy tends to grossly overemphasize continuity to the point of being virtually blind to discontinuity” (“God’s Law and Mosaic Punishments Today,” Theonomy: A Reformed Critique, p. 49). “Virtually blind” to discontinuity? Longman does not tell us just exactly what he sees that is relevant to refuting the theonomic approach, but which theonomists blindly overlook. Longman’s co-author, Dennis Johnson, readily enough corrects this accusation of gross blindness: “Both theonomists and their critics acknowledge continuity and discontinuity between the old covenant and the new…. No theonomist of whom I am aware actually contends that the law’s applicability remained utterly unchanged by the coming of Christ. . . . So the difference between theonomists and non-theonomists is not that one group sees nothing but continuity between the Mosaic order and the new covenant, while the other sees nothing but discontinuity” (“The Epistle to the Hebrews and The Mosaic Penal Sanctions,” Theonomy: A Reformed Critique, pp. 172, 173). Johnson easily offers a number of such important discontinuities spoken of in my writings.
 “Effects of Interpretive Frameworks on the Application of Old Testament Law,” Theonomy: A Reformed Critique, pp. 121, 109. The article by Poythress is not intended as a refutation or critique of the theonomic position itself “in its best form” and calls for no further response.
 At two critical junctures in his polemic against theonomic ethics, Dan Mc Cartney tries to distinguish himself from his opponents by suggesting that they, unlike himself, want to apply the Old Testament case law or civil law “directly” (“The New Testament Use of the Pentateuch: Implications for the Theonomic Movement,” Theonomy: A Reformed Critique, pp. 146, 148). In backing away from the impression his anti-theonomic comments have made, he says for instance: “This is not to say that Old Testament law does not apply to unbelievers”- yet it must not be forgotten: “but only that it does so very indirectly” (p. 148, emphasis mine). The “direct” and “indirect” polemic is a pointless begging of the question, since the terms have no predictable meaning or application. Whatever McCartney does with the Old Testament law will count to him as “indirect,” but surely whatever his theonomic opponents are doing must be the dreaded “direct” use. James Skillen’s overworked and ambiguous criticism of theonomy is that it makes a “direct” move from the character of God, or the Old Covenant code, or Il.rael’s ancient state to modern politics (The Scattered Voice [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990], pp. 171, 172, 174, 177, 178).
 “The Use of the Bible in Social Ethics: Paradigms, Types and Eschatology,” Transformation, vol. 1, no. 1 Qanuary/March, 1984), p. 17.
 For instance, Bruce Waltke chides theonomists: “Similarities between Israel’s anointed kings and uncircumcised pagan kings do not establish their equivalence. One must also note the many dissimilarities between these kings” (“Theonomy in Relation to Dispensational and Covenant Theologies,” Theonomy: A Reformed Critique, p. 83)- as though theonomists do not see those dissimilarities! Well then, what specific dissimilarities do these simple-minded theonomists actually overlook? Waltke offers only one (only one!) illustration, the dissimilarity that Israel had special principles to observe for holy war- precisely a leading illustration of uniqueness which is pointed out right in theonomic literature!
 Poythress, p. 105. He correctly observes that in some cases where the obser vance of Old Testament commands is modified or set aside, the affected law is “never explicitly altered in the New Testament” (pp. 105-106), thus reminding us to use sophisticated hermeneutical (and theological) principles of interpretation rather than “strict wooden” ones. It must be noted as well, however, that there is a world of difference between altering an Old Testament command on the basis of some specific and textually based line of theological reasoning and altering an Old Testament command with no textual tether whatsoever in one’s reasoning (and just a meat cleaver dismissal of Old Testament civil commands as a whole). Theonomy calls for the control principle of what the Biblical text actually says (“ex-plicit”) rather than interpretative frameworks imposed upon the text from outside. The way in which the Biblical text publicly teaches alteration in an Old Testament command, however, need not be by means of explicit enumeration, flagging, or direct comment.
 E.g., Chantry, pp. 15, 16, 18, 20-21, 27, 51, 59, 62; Neilson, pp. 19-20; Dan McCartney, Theonomy: A Reformed Critique, pp. 142, 148; Dager, pp. 175, 189; Peter Masters, “World Dominion: The High Ambition of Reconstructionism,” Sword & Trowel (May 24, 1990), pp. 16, 18-19.
 Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., “Theonomy and Eschatology: Reflections on Post millennialism,” Theorwmy: A Reformed Critique, p. 197. The same error is made by Robert P. Lightner, “Theonomy and Dispensationalism,” Bibliotheca Sacra, vol. 143 Uan-March, 1986), pp. 30-31, 142-143; House and Ice, p. 9; Meredith G. Kline, pp. 172-173; Lewis Neilson, where one-fifth of his booklet is actually directed against postmillennialism.
 D. Clair Davis, “A Challenge to Theonomy,” Theonomy: A Reformed Critique, p. 391. Davis also corrects another misunderstanding which arises in Gaffin’s article when Davis comments: “Is it impossible to harmonize the theonomic vision of a biblical society and the New Testament picture of a persecuted church? Not necessar ily.” Although I expressed my own postmillennial convictions in Theonomy (pp. 191-193, 424-425, 428-429, 432, 486), I also indicate that even premillennial futurists can agree with the ethical point being made (e.g., p. 397).
 Theonomy: A Reformed Critique, ed. William S. Barker and W. Robert Godfrey, p. 193. The title of section 4 is “Theonomy and Triumphalist Dangers,” but the whole book is permeated with this theme. The spirit of it all is captured by Bruce Waltke’s plea: “May the church boast in its weakness, not in its might!” (p. 85). Of course, one must be careful not to run to the opposite extreme from triumphalism and seek a kind of spiritual and social masochism for the church!
 E.g., the editors, p. 10; Poythress, pp. 117, 123; Frame, p. 99; Johnson, pp. 172, 191. Davis cautions theonomists against portraying their own perspectives as “the only correct ones” in the church; he reminds them of “political ambiguity” in this world (chapter 16).